Latinas, ages 12 to 18, enter the Hermanitas® program and find themselves on paths to futures they never dreamed possible. An affiliate of MANA, Hermanitas® meets once a month and provides one-on-one mentors, professional women who support the girls in reaching for the stars with the “Sí. Yo puedo.” or “Yes. I can.” attitude that gave me the idea for writing this blog.
An Hispanic girlfriend suggested I join MANA, the largest Latina organization in the United States when she found out the main character in my YA novels is a Latina, because, well, the character had to be; I couldn’t write her any other way. Hermanitas® gave me a venue for contributing to an awesome group of girls and allowed me to learn enough to develop my Latino characters with respect. Yep. For these past 5 years I’ve largely been the only white chick mentoring Hispanic girls. At times, I’ve felt a bit out of place, but the lovely ladies who run the program and the incredible young girls we mentor have mostly made me feel like I belong on their quest for success, right along with them.
On June 6, the Hermanitas® Graduation at the University of San Diego celebrated fifteen Latinas’ admissions to community colleges, universities, and even the Ivy Leagues. Maria Mendez was the recipient of the MANA President’s Award and received a scholarship for her college education. Maria Olea was the Hermanitas’ keynote speaker and will be attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall. She told the audience: “…I stayed [in Hermanitas® ] because there were people who saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself, and they provided the ‘how’ [to succeed].”
Director Celina Caprio received a standing ovation for her tireless service to Hermanitas as she passed the baton to Elizabeth Escobar for the coming year. “Everything I am is because I am loved and someone believed in me,” Caprio told the girls. “In the 9 years I have been fortunate to be a part of this program, I’ve witnessed shy girls finding their voice, goals taking shape and dreams…come true, [and] I want you to know…I believe in you. We believe in you.”
We have another 80 girls working hard in school with big goals and dreams. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor or contributing to the program visit http://www.manasd.org/. In the coming weeks, I hope to feature some of the mentors and hermanitas. You’ll love their stories. These feisty females are total badasses.
Today, Nick Nixon, successful businessman, lives in Carlsbad, California in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean, but he was born in 1953 to young parents in Pittsburgh, and at times he lived in foster care.
“Thankfully,” Nick says, “my extended family kept the details of my parents’ whereabouts from me – [a] gift because I never held negative feelings toward them. I enjoyed life wherever and however I lived [although]…I remember the sadness of being separated from my younger brother.”
Eventually, his immigrant grandparents took in the boys. Nick delighted in becoming fluent in Greek and experiencing two cultures. Then in the middle of first grade, his mom showed up at his grandparents’ home to move him and his brother to a subsidized housing project. They grew up poor, often living on welfare, but he recollects a noisy, happy family, rich in love, caring, and hope. At his new elementary school, he tested above grade level, so they put him in second grade. He says he never thought about it until he couldn’t drive a car like other high school juniors. People didn’t expect much from kids who came from the projects, so Nick became competitive with grades to be as good as or better than the “rich” kids.
“To me, being rich was defined as anyone who lived in a house and/or had a car…,” Nick recalls. “No woe-is-me story here. I had a very good life – happiness was a choice I made early. And did I mention how very lucky I am?”
Coming from an immigrant, blue collar environment, he was expected to finish high school (maybe) and then go to work at the local steel mill. Fortunately, he’d been too young after graduation to work in heavy industry, so he went to a local college during the day and worked nights at a mental health hospital as an aide. In witnessing some of those sad souls’ lives disintegrating, he learned to appreciate his own circumstances, however, the experience doused his aspirations to go into medicine. Since math had always come easily, he switched to engineering – except he soon realized he couldn’t afford to pay for school and support himself.
With a vow to finish college part-time, Nick packed up his car with everything he owned and drove to Hampton, Virginia to become an apprentice at Newport News Shipbuilding. He loved building submarines and aircraft carriers by day and going to school at night. College units slowly added up over the four years he worked in Virginia.
“They taught me how to work…,” Nick says. “I learned not only to be a starter, but more importantly, to be a finisher.”
Then recruiters came from another shipyard and offered Nick a job for almost double the money in Galveston, Texas where he worked on Jacques Cousteau’s ship “Calypso” and built offshore drilling rigs. Night school continued, but slowly, as the company shifted him between jobs in Galveston and New Orleans. It was then Nick discovered his wander lust, and he decided to travel the world before settling into a steady career or getting married.
In the 1970s he lived in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Connecticut. He settled in California in 1977, but along the way, he visited every state in the USA and province in Canada, traveling in his “Nick-built” van camper. He also backpacked in Europe for three months in 1976 and took an around-the-world journey for a hundred days in 1978.
“The word ‘xeno’ in Greek means ‘stranger,’” Nick explains. “I was xeno, a stranger, throughout my late teens and twenties, because I lived on the road alone…I learned happiness gets you past loneliness and …helps with making new friends, but loneliness can also lead you in the wrong direction. In my case, it contributed to making a very poor choice in marrying the first time.”
After 14 years of night school (without computers and on-line study) Nick completed his bachelor’s degree in 1984. Nick diversified his skills into transferable trades: as an iron worker, a production planner, a manufacturing engineer, and lower to mid management positions. All that education and experience led to founding his own businesses and eventually designing useful commercial products.
Nick’s motto: “Decide what you want and pay for it, not just with money [but] by working hard.”
Be patient with your plans and goals, but be assertive with your actions.
Don’t fear change.
Learn skills that serve a worthwhile need to keep you employed (or become an employer).
Embrace a varied education to become a producer and life-long learner.
Surround yourself with those who are experienced and heed their advice. “Everyone can be a mentor if you listen and watch,” he points out.
Treat everyone with respect and awe (yes, awe) – unless they give you reason to fear – then run.
And finally, marry when you are emotionally ready. There’s no hurry. Marry your friend that dreams with you and cries with you; marry the friend that builds with you and fails with you. Plan together – and produce together. Change together – and love together.
Although Nick may not ever retire completely, because he’s always got his fingers in several pies, he enjoys family, friends, and beautiful sunsets in Carlsbad, California; that is, when he isn’t traveling the world with his truly lovely wife of thirty years and best friend, Kathy.
Agent Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management sent me a proof for TABULA RASA, a debut novel by Kristen Lippert-Martin to be released September 23. I read Lippert Martin’s book and totally loved it, so I logged onto Goodreads to write a review and could not believe what I found. Some reviewers wrote glowing, positive recommendations for the book – like mine. Others, however, who totally missed the point of several scenes, in my opinion, wrote things about TABULA RASA that were ridiculous. One went as far as to say the author was racist.
Seriously? Come on!
The story is a nail-biting page-turner with lots of surprising twists about a sixteen-year-old Latina named Angel who has been undergoing experimental surgeries on her brain to erase her memories in a hospital located in the mountains somewhere. She’s been told by the doctors and nurses she should be grateful for the opportunity to be rid of the torment of her delinquent past, so she can start a new life. As she gets set for the final operation to become a true blank slate, or tabula rasa, the lights go out. Someone whispers a cryptic message and puts a handful of pills in Angel’s hand, moments before a bunch of commando guys rush into the secluded hospital spraying bullets, killing staff and other patients.
The premise is what nightmares are made of: memory loss and disorientation in the midst of gunfire and the discovery that
you’re the target. Angel is a kick ass heroine who takes the pills she’s been given and begins to remember bits and pieces of her life as she survives against incredible odds.
Kristin Lippert-Martin wrote draft after draft to create an excellent story, went through the arduous task of finding an awesome agent from a reputable literary firm to get behind her, and with the help of that agent, found an editor at Egmont USA to believe in her and her story.
Then before TABULA RASA even comes out, a reviewer publishes smack about how the computer-hacker-geek that Angel runs into, the love interest who helps her to survive this insane situation, says something silly about her being Mexican. The thing Thomas says isn’t mean, just clueless. The dialogue is congruent with his socially-challenged character, not at all racist. The reviewer grouses that of course the hero/sidekick who helps Angel with his amazing hacking skills is a white guy, however, she fails to mention that the evil character who has done her best to ruin Angel’s life, and ultimately tries to end it, is also white. Further, Angel’s memories of her deceased Latina mother are the sweetest, most endearing scenes. Her mother was probably my favorite secondary character. I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that the reviewer didn’t discuss Angel’s mother.
Race is a hot button for some people, though, even me sometimes. Late last year, I attended a seminar educating young Latinas about the political process and how they should get involved in their communities. The keynote speaker quipped that Barbara Boxer, our California senator, was “okay for a white woman,” which was insulting. I’ll never forget the experience of being one of the two white people in that audience. Maybe that grumpy book reviewer had a similar experience as a Latina, so she was particularly sensitive to the lame comment the character makes in TABULA RASA. His comment doesn’t bother Angel, and it’s surprising that it bothered the reviewer. The truth is, Kirsten Lippert-Martin’s book is an incredibly intense, fun read.
I hope people pay more attention to the positive reviews and treat themselves to the breathtaking ride that is TABULA RASA. Once the book comes out in September, I’ll post the link, so you can grab a copy and judge for yourself.